Andrew Buncombe: On the unfinished road to democracy

Pakistan Notebook
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The Independent Online

The M-2 is like no other road in Pakistan. The highway cuts straight through the Punjab, linking Islamabad and Lahore. All but empty of traffic, it is a world apart. The landscape, however, is something different. Ancient farmland filled by water buffaloes and orange groves, it appears fixed and unchanging. This morning, I sat dozing in the taxi, thinking about Pakistan's landscape – physical and political – in the week Pervez Musharraf resigned. After eight years dominating Pakistan's politics, people said it was inconceivable he was leaving. I'm not so sure. In December when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, people said the same. Even those who did not support her said her death would leave a vacuum. But six months on, Pakistan looks and feels quite different. Following her death and during the February election campaign, her image filled the posters of her Pakistan's People's Party (PPP). Now she's literally in the background. The day of Musharraf's resignation I drove to Liaquat Bagh, the park in Rawalpindi where she was killed. The place was full of PPP posters but her image was in the background. Instead they were dominated by the face of her widower, Asif Ali Zardari. I expect soon, the face of her son, Bilawal, will join them. This week he returned to Pakistan from Britain, where he is a student, to weigh in on the country's future. He, like his father, is unelected; they share the chairmanship of the party and hold their positions simply because Benazir named them as her successors. It's a bit of a joke. Musharraf may have gone, but Pakistan's path to full democracy remains an unfinished road.

Bordering on ridiculous

The India-Pakistan border crossing at Waggah, 20 miles from both Lahore (Pakistan) and Amritsar (India), is a remarkable place. Because trucks from either country are not allowed to progress more than 100 metres into the opposing territory, armies of porters unload and then reload lines of trucks. It's vastly labour-intensive. I wonder what will happen should relations between the two countries improve to allow the lorries to proceed further. On a hot and dusty day I'm more than happy to pay 100 rupees to, first a Pakistani porter, and then to an Indian porter, to carry my bag as I negotiate six separate border formalities.

A brazen suggestion

Back in Delhi, there's an invitation to the launch of You Are Here, the debut novel by Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan. The book is a coming-of-age novel, promoted as highly decadent. The dress code says "Naughty, brazen, sexy, irresistible". Whoever wrote that had clearly not just completed an 11-hour journey between Delhi and Islamabad.